What is a Smart City?
The Greater Toronto Area is Canada's most populous metropolitan area, and this year alone it has grown by more than 200,000 people. Canada has one of the world's highest rates of urbanization at 82% of the population. Cities the world over are growing at an astonishing rate. Every week, 1.5 million people join the urban population. People are drawn to the economic opportunity, cultural vibrancy, and quality of life that big cities like Toronto offer.
As cities grow, they are faced with some very big challenges. Traffic congestion. Housing affordability. Increasing demand for schools, hospitals, and government services. Managing these challenges requires good planning, effective decision making, efficient services, and strong democratic participation from citizens and residents.
Cities like Singapore, San Francisco and Helsinki are using digital technologies to solve these and other problems, in order to make life better for residents. In Glasgow, streetlights with smart sensors dim when the streets are empty, saving energy and taxpayer dollars. In Barcelona, the government opened up its data sets for use by citizens and businesses, installed free Wi-Fi in streetlights, and has sensors constantly monitoring waste bins, parking spaces, and air quality. When city planners and service providers have access to more accurate and timely data, it creates possibilities to use the city's resources more equitably and efficiently.
In Canada, the federal government is running a $300 million Smart Cities Challenge. The Smart Cities Challenge is a pan-Canadian competition open to communities of all sizes, including municipalities, regional governments and Indigenous communities (First Nations, Métis and Inuit). The Challenge encourages communities to adopt a smart cities approach to improve the lives of their residents through innovation, data and connected technology. The government received 130 applications from communities across Canada and selected 20 finalists who have received $250,000 each to further develop their proposal by Winter 2019.
An important feature of Canada's smart city challenge is that technology is not an end in itself, but a means of improving outcomes for residents, as determined by residents. All of the successful finalists in the Smart Cities Challenge engaged meaningfully with citizens and residents to determine their highest priority opportunity for technology and data to improve quality of life.